President Obama has nominated Dr. Carla D. Hayden, of the Enoch Pratt Free Library in Baltimore, MD, as the new Librarian of Congress. If confirmed, Hayden will take the place of the retiring James Billington, who’s been at the post since 1987, and become the first woman and the first African-American to hold the position. A little background on why the appointment is so important would also be helpful.
Given the enormous resources of the Library of Congress, given the development of the entire Internet and the Digital Age since President Reagan’s appointment of Billington, and given the necessity for the Librarian to be as much a fund-raiser as a librarian, it’s a little surprising to me that the search did not turn up a qualified candidate–black, white, Asian, or Mexican–from one of our large universities, many of which house millions of books and documents, have gone digital to a great degree, and whose staffs are quite adept at both fund-raising and working within a budget. Perhaps the search did turn up such a candidate, who might’ve turned the offer down. In any case, whatever Dr. Hayden’s strengths and limitations might happen to be (and she does have some experience overseeing large collections at the University of Chicago back in the 1980s), she’s probably going to be an improvement over Billington, who was a bit of a cultural Luddite over his long tenure.